Supervisors stall action on policies for personnel|[11/22/06]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Revisions to the Warren County Board of Supervisors’ policy for county employees will be on hold until workers can be educated about changes involving benefits and a drug-testing policy, a board majority has decided.

The policy has been in draft mode since March when the board hired attorney Ken Rector to revise the handbook governing the county’s 293 employees. The county has paid Rector nearly $14,000 in fees.

&#8220We have quite a number of long-serving employees who need to be prepared,” District 5 Supervisor Richard George said when asked about delays in making changes. &#8220It requires a lot of time and diligence.”

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County Administrator John Smith, who has had a role in crafting a new personnel policy, said he would consult with the heads of the county’s 17 departments to relay information and ease the transition.

Each department would have the option of adopting it or keeping its current policy. The Warren County Sheriff’s Department has its own rulebook and does not figure into the issue.

District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders, who was a driving force behind putting the issue on the table after his election as this year’s board president, indicated any delay was needless.

&#8220The only conclusion I can reach is that a non-decision is always easier than making a hard one,” Flanders said in a prepared statement. The public has not been well-served by the delay, he added, and called the board’s reasoning &#8220vague and unsubstantiated.”

The two chief hangups are spelling out employee rights under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and determining who should and should not be exposed to random testing for illegal drugs.

&#8220From my perspective, it’s FMLA,” Smith said, referring to the law passed by Congress in 1993 that empowers employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave due to illness or to care for a sick family member.

According to Smith, the most likely change will occur in handling employees’ sick time.

&#8220We’ll put that on the front end instead of on the back end,” Smith said. Most employers require an employee to exhaust paid sick leave before claiming FMLA benefits, which is allowed under federal regulations.

As for formulating a drug-testing policy, a hint of a final revision is less clear. An early idea was to have any employee subject to handling &#8220sensitive county information” subject to random testing. It was abandoned when supervisors concluded that it was not feasible to test clerical employees, such as those who work in the purchasing and accounting departments.

Road Department Manager Richard Winans, who oversees a department of 78 full-time employees, has supported random testing for all of them. Already tested are drivers of vehicles as mandated by the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

&#8220We need equity among the employees,” Winans said, adding that in recent years more equipment has become driven and not hauled, such as front-end loaders and backhoes.

If a mandatory drug-testing policy is implemented, it will likely be for pre-employment and following an accident on the job. The most recent public discussion regarding the new personnel policy revolved around that issue, with District 1 Supervisor David McDonald saying at the time random testing was essential to a drug-free workplace.

Ideas already dropped from consideration were employee evaluations, which are done by the City of Vicksburg. Supervisors could not agree on how to tie the exam-like reviews to compensation.

Hiring a personnel specialist to handle personnel matters was also mentioned, but the board settled on keeping those issues in the hands of individual department heads.